Fictional Science

>

“What is warp drive?”

It started with a question. A rather simple question, on another Long Drive. This one was with me as the co-pilot and five rather hyper children in the back. And a box of pizza.

There are three methods of traveling faster than light. Well, only two involve traveling faster than light, the third is sort of the illusion of light-speed travel, because the pen is faster than the space ship. They all involve a certain amount of hand waving. Hand waving is the process of talking really fast and waving your hands around so that no one notices that what you said is, in the words of my dad, completely bogus. None of them are exactly what I’d call scientific.

This is why I said to my mom, fifteen minutes later, that maybe I shouldn’t be giving my siblings science lessons. Actually, one should never let a science fiction writer teach anything scientific…

Hyperspace
A magical place outside of the known universe where the laws of physics don’t apply. Thus, to travel thousands of light years one simply hops or jumps into hyperspace, flies over to the nearest star, and hops or jumps back into the real world.

Warp Drive
Wave your hands really fast and your ship will go faster. Never mind all the physical implausibilities of traveling faster than light, just do it. Equip your ship with special engines; alien technology always works. And call it something that sounds like was it is… warped.

Snail Speed
Suspended animation is the most plausible method of traveling from star to star, but it’s not the most plausible method of immortality. So it depends on which science fiction technique you’re evaluating to know exactly how plausible it is. Also known as cryogenic sleep it involved sleeping for thousands of years while traveling just below light speed, thus remaining within the known laws of physics. Generation space ships also fall into this category.

Imaginary Numbers

>

If there’s one thing more constructive and informational than a good Dinner Table Conversation it’s a very long drive. When you live out west, or in the country, you learn this very quickly, because every drive is a Very Long Drive. Tonight was no exception.

It was an hour drive into the city for my Dad’s speech club meeting. He took me out to dinner, and then we went to Barnes and Noble, and there I planted myself in the Science section and found some complicated books on theoretical science. I’m a science fiction writer; I don’t care how sound the science is, just that it’s cool. I didn’t really have enough time to sort out what any of the writers were talking about before it was time for the drive back home, so I asked my dad the fatal question:
“Do you know anything about string theory?”
“It’s completely bogus.”
“Well, besides that…”
Because, you see, all I knew was that it involved 10 or 11 dimensions. This confused me, because I understood three spacial dimensions, and the fourth time dimension, and I could almost figure out how you could have a fifth dimension… but ten? Where were they? What did they do? Why do you need that many? The best I could figure they were alternate dimensions, but then why have only ten? Why not more?

“No, they’re completely different.”
“How?”

Back to go forward, says DarkTrench, so backwards we went. Back to Einstein and the relativity. We talked about the double split experiment and quantum physics. Then we went back further and talked about Newton and calculus. And finally we got around to the point…

“What is the square root of negative x?”

Um… good question.

Actually… very good question.

Actually… what is the square root of negative x??

Well, says my dad, it’s i. (Or j, actually, depending on if you’re a mathematician or an electrical engineer. Because if you an EE than i stands current, hence the need for j. Did you know that before now?) It’s an imaginary number. It doesn’t exist. You can do math with it, but it isn’t really there. You just imagined it.

It’s like having two mechanical pieces that need to be fit together inside a tiny box. There’s not enough room to do it, so you take them out of the box, fit them together and put them back in. Only there’s nothing outside the box.

Well, this is good. This makes sense. This is a working, practical solution to an obnoxious problem. People use this every day. They build things and go their way not realizing what a dangerous tool they have put into the hands of theoretical scientists…

Imaginary Dimensions. It’s a bit like hyperspace, a mythical wonderful world where the laws of physics don’t apply. M-Theory (or string theory as it’s also known) is the theory of inventing dimensions to solve insoluble problems outside of the known universe. Such as traveling faster than light. And the ten dimensions it uses to explain these things don’t actually exist, anymore than the words that flow from a writer’s pen.

Amazing how simple it all is once you get space and time out of your head.

Myst: Avatar

>I’m sure this has been done before, but all the same I present to you Avatar and Myst, visually depicted side by side.

They are Atokirina’. Seeds of the Great Tree — very pure spirits.
– Neytiri; Avatar

I taught him how to trim the delicate Lattice roots. How to splice old and new growths together so the walls of our houses will grow strong. I tell him the traditions of the Weave. How by using the spores to support the growing branches, we keep the Lattice Tree alive. He wants to learn everything I know. He wants Narayan to survive. I take him to the rift, to where the sea flows through gaps in the world. Steam flows up from the waterfall. The puffer spores are ready to take flight. We stand in the shadows of dusk and watch the spores begin to rise. He says they look like pearls against the sky.
– Saavedro’s Journal; Myst III: Exile

What we think we know – is that there’s some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of the trees. Like the synapses between neurons. Each tree has ten to the fourth connections to the trees around it, and there are ten to the twelfth trees on Pandora… That’s more connections than the human brain. It’s a network – a global network. And the Na’vi can access it – they can upload and download data – memories – at sites like the one you just destroyed.
– Grace Augustine: Avatar

Many lifetimes ago, a child from the village contracted a fever and died. Moved his parents tears, a flower told the parents to carry their child into her pistil. She would preserve his memories so they could visit him whenever they wished. Then the flower passed one of the tears back through the roots, turning it into a container to hold memories, and the father dove underwater to collect it. Having read Catherine’s descriptive Book, I realize that the plant the Protectors called the “Memory Chamber” is but the fruiting body of a massive fungus. Like any fungus, it recycles dead organic material into nutrients — in this case, “filled” memory globes. Yet I cannot help thinking that my scientific understanding of Serenia pales in comparison to the Protectors’ simple tale.
– Atrus’ Serenia Journal; Myst IV: Revelation

Perhaps, if I bring in some of the unusual floating stone from Amateria? Something about the molecular composition of the rock in that Age causes it to attract and repel other stone quite forcefully. Maybe, if I introduce some of it to the soil on the island, it will interfere just enough to damage the last poem.
– Saavedro’s Journal; Myst III: Exile

The legendary Floating Mountains of Pandora? Heard of them?
– Norm Spellman; Avatar

Yeah, so what does hold them up? Grace explained it to me — some kind of maglev effect because unobtanium is a superconductor, or something. At least somebody understands it. Just not me.
– Jake Sully; Avatar

A great evil is upon us. The Sky People are coming to destroy Hometree. They will be here soon.
– Jake Sully; Avatar

The Lattice Roots were black from too much overgrowth. Puffer spores floated up in the hot steam and burst. No one was there to guide the spores to the branches. No one was waiting to perform the ritual Weaves. The fighting had torn my people apart. They didn’t care.
They wanted Narayan to die
– Saavedro’s Journal; Myst III: Exile

The Story of Your Life

>Everyone has a story.

“Not me,” you say, “my life is boring,” and I won’t argue because my life is boring as well. “Write what you know,” the experts say, but what do you write when what you know is not (in your opinion) worth writing? There’s no story there, no excitement, no adventure.We want to write epic tales of intrigue, of heroes, of danger and romance. But what is a story?

For every “epic” tale there are thousands of untold stories. While heroes are running around saving the world in dozens of different places, hundreds of ordinary people are living out dramatic lives in their shadow. When you read the story of an assassination do you think about the cook who was executed for serving the poisoned food? When you imagine a story of war and pathos, do you think of each of those soldiers as lives lost, or tools to be used?

One unwritten story that has always haunted me is the tale of the Unsung Heroes. Everyone has a history, a past, and so many risk their lives, so many die and no one ever knows. Both in reality and in fiction there are stories untold, and heroes unsung.

When you think of the little people, the unknowns, and those deemed useless, when you can see the beauty of the small lives they lead, when you can see the pieces of a much larger tapestry, then can you look at your life and see the story? Can you see how heroes can be small, and triumphs ordinary? Can you see how everyone has a story, and every story has a part?

Can you see past your dreams to the Story of your Life?

101 Things I’ve Learned: Listen to the Sidekick

>

“How long have I known you?”
“All my life.”
“Then why won’t you tell me where we’re going?”
“You won’t like it.”

Sidekicks are the voice of reason when the main characters are caught up in the quest. They’re also the eyes that see the unexpected coming when the heroes are involved in a more important duels. Listen to them.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I did. You weren’t listening.”

After all, what are sidekicks for if not watching out for the main character? If you have a tag-a-long you might as well make use of it, and if you have an adviser, well:

“I’m your Councilor! I’m supposed to support you!”

101 Things I’ve Learned: How Do You Know My Name?

>

(replace with appropriate mental image)

A young woman exits the elevator and inquires of a random character walking past: “I think I’m lost. I’m looking for ward 26?”
Who replies: “This way, Rose Tyler.”

A young man falls unconscious and awakens next to a mysterious man’s fire. They talk for a considerable time and the stranger (who has not been introduced) calls him by name: “Artose, God has a plan for your life.”

If a complete stranger knows your name it is a very good indication a villain is behind it. (Either that or he’s a angel or you’re having a vision; everyone in dreams knows who you are.) You should never, ever walk off with someone who knows your name when you never gave it.

How do you know my name? Are you an angel, a saint, or a devil?
How do you know my name? Where you expecting me?
How do you know my name? Who sent you? Where’s my companion? Where are you taking me?

Unless you’re wearing a nametag, or you have your identity printed on your forehead, or you’re in a dream, or you know the person you’re speaking to, or the person knows a person you know and can identify him, or you have an ID that’s scanable from the distance if a strange knows your name… don’t go with him. If a stranger knows your name… ask him how. And if he doesn’t answer satisfactorily do the smart thing.

And what is the smart thing? Run the other way.

Unfinished Beginnings: Sarith of Avalon

>(Another Tolkien inspired piece, this one with slightly better names. Although the elves are obviously borrowed that could be easily fixed if I could remember what the entire point of this story was going to be.)

Sarith woke up and dreaded another day. Sleep no longer brought him rest. It was only a way of passing the time of the evil night during which none might be abroad. Sometimes he wondered which he dreaded more; the darkness of the night or the darkness of his dreams. Ever since Gathorn had met him his thoughts were ever-filled with foreboding and a dread he could not shake off. Here, in Avalon, he was safe, yet he knew that sooner or later destiny would call him forth; forth to war.

He did not know who he would lead, or who he would follow. War was breeding though, there would be no mistake. War, he shuddered at the word, the thought; the evil that Gathorn was planning and had disclosed. He didn’t dare breath a word of it to Mora, or Tareth or Mariessa or any of them. It was a thought too terrible to talk about. But it haunted his dreams at night and soon he would have to leave the safety of his home and take his place against the evil that was brewing in his world.

***

Gathorn had found him only a week ago, riding on the outskirts of the forest.

“Hi there, my lad,” he cried. “Not so fast now.”

Sarith had frowned down on him then; an old wizened man walking along the road.

“Who are you, stranger?” he asked.

“Stranger,” he laughed. “Stranger? Do you not know that soon I am to be master of the world? Yes, I, Gathorn. You, elvin-lordling, shall soon come to know and fear me. I shall take your land and your home, but for now I will be content with your name (for I am sure it is great), your cloak (lovely, made by your dear Mora, was it?), that band of gold which encircles your fair brow (denoting your worthless birth), your horse (he will better serve me), and your sword (which is nameless, but I shall give it a better title: Anurail, meaning Dark Fire).”

“How dare you,” Sarith said, not yet angry. “Do you not know who I am?”

“I am waiting for your name.”

“I am Sarith, Elvin-Lord of Avalon.”

“Sarith, is it? Now I know. Little does it matter. Now for your second gift, that fair cloak. White and gold are scarcely a standard for war. Come, hand it over.”

Drawn by something he didn’t understand Sarith gave it to him without protest.

“Now that circle of gold you wear, it will be a promise of the land that will later be mine.”

Unable to resist he gave it to him.

“Now dismount. Your horse, Argon, shall be mine as well.”

Sarish dismounted, but he kept his tongue. “Argon shall never be yours,” he said. “He will let none ride him but me, and will be faithful, even to death. He will not willingly leave me and if you take him away he will find his way back, through fire and water if need be. So I have been pledged.”

“Oh, pledged, is he? Well, I’ll tame him in spite of that. Now give me your sword.”

“It is a time of peace, not of war. I carry no sword.”

“No?” Gathorn’s face grew dark. “That is ill for you. You must learn that it is a time of war, and not of peace. You had better find your sword and clean the rust off it. I shall claim it from you another time. Now I will let you return to your hose, to try and defend it, and the lands that surround it. They depend on it, don’t they? Avalon and her people are under your protection. I will have it for my own; I will have it all. You must fight me, for I will not deign to offer peace to the likes of you.”

Sarith opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. Gathorn raised his staff, his eyes filled with hate. It seemed to gleam with fire as he brought it down with a force that stunned Sarith beyond sensibility.

When he awoke the dread was there. Tarith and Mariessa found him. They had been sent out by Mora when he did not come in for dinner and brought him back to the house. Argon found his way back to the stable late that night. He came to his senses in his own room with those he loved around him, but the dread would not leave. It had been with him ever since.

***

Sarith closed his eyes and willed his fear away. He had to be able to face this morning and every morning after this. Doom was approaching; his people needed him. Soon he had to go, and he would ride out, whenever he found the strength to overcome his fear. This fear wasn’t natural, he thought bitterly as he rose and dressed.

Mora thought so too and blocked his way when he tried to leave the room.

“Where are you off to, Sarith?” she asked; when he made no answer she took his arm and steered him to the kitchen.

“Sit down,” she said, “and eat. Drive this nameless darkness from your mind. Eat, and grow strong. More than that, talk. Sarith, you haven’t talked since you got that blow on the head. Who did it, Sarith? It was not mere robbers, that is plain to see. Sarith! Don’t sit there and let it eat away at you. Open your mind to us; let the light into your secret thoughts. If you keep your heart inm silence, despair will eat at it until there is nothing left but a great, dark emptiness ever-longing for what can’t be had.

“Why do you sit and brood all day in this dark silence?” she pleaded with him. “WHy do you let this shadow hide your glory? Do not forget who you are, Sarith. Do not lose the knowledge that you are an elvin-lord of Avalon.”

Sarith sighed and looked at his breakfast, still untouched.

“Don’t fret, Mora,” he said softly, stood, and left the house. He went to the stable and led out Argon. Today was the day, he could put it off no longer. Today he must ride and face what was coming.

Slowly he buckled on his sword. Slowly… and reluctantly. He was not nameless as Gathorn had said. Long ago it had been given a name; Elindur, a flame in darkness. He had traded the bright colors of the forest for dark gray. If he met his enemy Gathorn could not accuse him of not minding his rebuke.

Slowly he mounted Argon. He was not surprised that his horse had returned. No one could tame him; he belonged to Sarith alone. He name meant North Wind and he was a priceless treasure; fathful as the day was long and a friend even to the friendless.

I Am the Doctor

>

Photo by Nathan Greenwood

Last month I went to the county fair along with some of my brothers and sisters. In less than an hour I was wondering why I had come. I’d already been on all of the sane rides twice, and managed to get tricked onto one of the insane rides and was sorely wishing I had just stayed at home and read a good book instead. I don’t like the rides that people go on for thrills and this being the country fair and all the thoughts that run through my mind are all the people that would die if the thing broke, and the likelihood of it breaking, and the fact that if the maintainers are anything like the ride operators I wouldn’t want to trust my life to their hands… The only thing that kept me sane on one particular trip was the thought that there was no way I had lived this long only to die on a malfunctioning ride at the county fair. If I was going to die young it would be in a car accident or something else normal, not in a freakish accident at the hands of a stupid operator.

I had wanted to go though, and my siblings had bought my ticket for me, so I had to enjoy myself somehow. We got there at about 6:00 and the fair didn’t close until 10:00 and I was at my wits end what to do. I rambled at my sister, who was in the unusual position of being forced to listen to me ramble while we were standing in line for one of my favorite rides. (It didn’t leave the ground.) I explained which rides I liked and why I liked them and I analyzed my reasons for liking them and came up with the following premise:

I like kid rides. I like rides that you go on with a kid and you wave your arms about and scream and get them to stare at you and ask why you’re screaming. I like making up stories about the adventures that the rides represent and having a kid to tell those stories too. I like having someone to make a fool of myself too. I wasn’t having any fun that day because it was the older kid’s night out and there was no child for me to interact with.

“You could always come with me.”

Like taking the Doctor and sticking him in a room full of stuffy Time Lords.

“We have the privilege of viewing all of time and space.” We have the privilege of the freedom of the world. We have the authority, the cars, and the money to buy tickets and go to the fair. We’re adults; we’re mature, responsible, and stuck with the dull drudgery of running the world. We envy the children we once were running carefree with their games. They envy us our lack of school, the freedom that they see our lives. By sharing our lives with theirs we can recapture the innocence of childhood and teach them the responsibilities of adults. Only in the presence of a child can I stop behaving as an adult.

“I can’t see it anymore. You make all of time and space your backyard, and that’s what you have. A backyard. But you… you can see it. And when you see it, I see it.”

In front of us in line two eager excited girls were informed that they couldn’t go on the ride without an adult. They ran over to their mom, but she wasn’t interested in riding and told them they’d have to find another one to go on. I stepped out of line and told the mom that if it was all right with her they could ride with me. I was an adult; and for one shining moment I was the Doctor.

I could fix things, I could help children. I can enjoy the universe by showing it to others, as I enjoyed myself on that ride with two strangers. My brother and his friends were “too cool” to hang out with me, but I didn’t mind them any more. I didn’t get another Doctor moment that night, but I kept my eyes open.

The Doctor isn’t just a character from a British TV show. He’s a concept and an ideal. He’s the child inside every one of us begging to be expressed, and that’s why so many people associate themselves with him. You can be the Doctor and share the glorious parts of life with every one of your companions.

Unfinished Beginnings: Fararir

>(I was reading through the Simarillion when I first started writing this, and was playing with some names similar to Tolkien’s. I failed miserably in my opinion. Scribbled all over the margins of this beginning are various variations: Fararir, Faratir, Faramir, Faralir, Fara, Faralyr, Fararere, Farirer, Farareer, Farireer, Farirere… 

I know I had some plan for writing a story about the long-lost son of a king who wasn’t actually the heir, but I never was able to figure out the details.)

Fararir looked up from his planting and wiped his sweaty brow to regard the strangers clustered on the road. There were four of them, maybe five, all on horseback and in dark cloaks; unseasonable for the weather. Curious, he came closer when he saw Farmer Goldon come out. They spoke for a minute and then one of the strangers gave the Farmer some money and he left.

“Are you sure he’s the one, Ranger?” Someone asked.

“Certain as if his name was written on his forehead,” the one called Ranger replied.

Fararir stared unabashedly. He was silent, gradually letting himself come to terms withw hat he had seen happen. The men stared in turn, evaluating him.

“What’s your name?” the first one asked; he made no answer.

“Let him alone, Walker,” another said, stirring restlessly. “We have far to go.”

“Don’t speak of distance to me,” Walker retorted. “You’re the one who let the horses slip.”

“Enough,” Ranger said. He was not harsh but they fell silent at his voice. “I suppose you know who we are,” he continued, addressing the youth.

He knew all right, but still he said nothing. He had been sold, of course. It was not uncommon. These men were his masters now. He wasn’t even curious as to what they wanted him for. They might even be slaves themselves. He’d known it would happen sooner or later. All over Griston children were being sold; no one could afford to feed them, not even the Goldon’s. Especially not a half-grown orphan boy.

His rational mind told him that all this was normal and expected, but though the thought never crossed his concious thinking he felt he had been betrayed.

“Have you no tongue?” a fourth stirred restlessly. “You know we’re your masters; you saw us pay Farmer Goldon. You’ve heard us ask your name and yet you stand there like a dumb statue.”

Still Fararir said nothing. The wound had struck more deeply than he realized. HIs life had been hard, even crule. The land was merciless, the crops poor, the work endless and exhausting, and the food short, yet he far preferred it to riding off with these Northeners to a land far off and a purpose unknown.

“Lad,” Ranger stirred uneasily. “We are anxious to be off. But first you must answer one important question. What is your proper name, given you at birth and yours alone to bear until your death?”

He took a deep breath and answered. “Fararir.”

The men sighed in relief. “He’s the one,” Walker said.